|08BEIRUT1758||2008-12-16 11:26:00||CONFIDENTIAL||Embassy Beirut|
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BEIRUT 001758
1. (C) In a December 13 meeting with visiting Codel Ackerman,
President Michel Sleiman emphasized the need for a
comprehensive regional peace agreement in order, "with time",
to disarm Hizballah. Sleiman noted that Lebanese Armed
Forces (LAF) and UNIFIL presence south of the Litani since
2006 was a positive step towards diminishing Hizballah's
influence in the south, but acknowledged the need to assert
control over the group north of the Litani River.
2. (C) Sleiman acknowledged having concerns about indirect
peace negotiations between Syria and Israel, but said Lebanon
could gain from a potential solution. However, he dismissed
the possibility of any Lebanon-Israel talks. Sleiman also
cited terrorism as one of the main challenges facing Lebanon;
he said the threat of terrorism in the country wasparticularly dangerous since
attacks could triggerwider
sectarian conflict. End Summary.
STRESSING CONTINUED U.S. SUPPORT
3. (C) Codel Ackerman, accompanied by Ambassador and Emboffs,
met with President Michel Sleiman December 13 at Baabda
Palace. Codel members were Rep. Gary Ackerman, D-NY,
chairman of the HFAC subcommittee on the Middle East and
South Asia, and subcommittee members Rep. Jeff Flake, R-AZ;
Rep. Joe Wilson, R-SC; Rep. Brian Higgins, D-NY; and Rep. Ron
Klein, R-FL; as well as subcommittee staffers David Adams,
Greg McCarthy, and Howard Diamond. Ackerman opened the
meeting by emphasizing to President Sleiman the U.S.
commitment to helping Lebanon succeed; he noted U.S. policy
toward Lebanon was not "an appendage" of our policies toward
other countries in the region.
4. (C) Support for Lebanon's independence and U.S. assistance
to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) will continue into the
next administration, Ackerman said. He cited Lebanon's
historical role as a multiconfessional center of culture and
said the U.S. wants to assist Lebanon in strengthening this
position. Ackerman highlighted the important role of
Lebanese-Americans in the United States.
REFUGEES, TERRORISM, AND
5. (C) Sleiman said that Lebanon, as a weak country, needs
international political support to protect it from
interference by its neighbors. On the issue of Palestinian
refugees, he said insufficient infrastructure, employment,
and other resources existed to support 400,000 Palestinian
refugees; the camps are also a security concern for the GOL.
Meanwhile, millions of Lebanese live abroad, Sleiman said.
The country's economic and security situations need to be
improved in order to entice some of them to return home.
Lebanon should "receive its own people" rather than
incorporate Palestinians, he said. Sleiman argued the threat
of terrorism was particularly worrisome in Lebanon, because
the country's multiconfessional nature made it possible that
terrorist strikes on particular communities could create
larger internal conflicts.
6. (C) Codel members asked about the negotiations between
Syria and Israel. Sleiman acknowledged he had concerns about
Syrian-Israeli indirect talks but suggested that, if the U.S.
could "control" discussions, the outcome could benefit
Lebanon. Codel Ackerman stressed the U.S. commitment to
making sure Lebanon benefited from whatever resulted from the
Syrian-Israeli talks. Asked about the possibility of
Israeli-Lebanese discussions, Sleiman argued that there were
no strictly "bilateral" issues to justify such talks.
Instead, Sleiman said he supported comprehensive regional
BEIRUT 00001758 002 OF 002
peace negotiations -- such as the Madrid and Annapolis
processes. Bilateral Lebanon-Israel issues were covered by
UN resolutions and should be pursued under that umbrella, he
HIZBALLAH'S ARMS ARE AN
INTERNAL POLITICAL ISSUE
7. (C) Responding to a question from Codel Ackerman about
Hizballah's arms, Sleiman said that this topic would be
debated in internal dialogue processes such as the current
National Dialogue roundtable, which will meet next on
December 22. He stressed Hizballah's historical role in
providing national protection in the south, and said it would
be difficult to dismantle the organization after so many
years without an LAF presence in the region. Though it is
positive that the LAF has been present south of the Litani
since 2006, said Sleiman, disarming Hizballah would take
time. Sleiman believed that although the LAF and UNIFIL
control the area south of the Litani river, the GOL needed to
"find a mechanism" to control Hizballah north of the Litani
8. (C) Sleiman argued that a comprehensive regional peace
agreement would help the GOL curtail shipments of arms to
Hizballah. According to Sleiman, Hizballah has an interest
in keeping peace in the country. Settlement of the issue of
Sheba'a Farms would make it easier for the GOL to find a
political solution to the group's weapons, he added. Sleiman
expressed hope that Lebanon could keep peace through
implementation of UNSCR 1701. He said the GOL will, "with
time," find a solution to the challenges posed by Hizballah.